Amtrak, You Suck

Lest we forget, Amtrak, the nation's passenger rail system, sucks. The original news that the service's unadulterated success--the higher-speed Acela line running on Amtrak's only money-making line between Washington, D.C. and Boston--was being pulled due to brake defects has been exacerbated due to a shortage of available parts.

From the SF Chron:

Amtrak pulled all of its 20 Acela trains out of service on Friday after finding millimeter-size cracks in 300 of the fleet's 1,440 disc brake rotors. Each Acela train has 72 brakes.

"This part is unique to the Acela and there is no active production line casting them," said Crosbie said. "The manufacturer has told me this will take some time."

Crosbie said there are fewer than 70 disc brakes available now.

Starting Monday, Metroliner trains--slower than Acela but faster than regular trains--will operate 13 of the 15 Acela round trips between New York and Washington.

Whole thing here.

Reason on Amtrak's spectacular record of money losses here and here.

The Government Accountability Office calling bullshit on Amtrak's accounting process here.

The NY Times' new libertarian op-ed columnist John Tierney on the recent debacle here.

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  • ||

    I don't know, it's tough to blame this one on Amtrak. It's hardly their fault that their supplier can't deliver spare parts as fast as they'd like, or that the poor conditions of tracks (resulting from chronic underfunding of maintenance) has overstressed the equipment.

  • ||

    No, they need to die. They banned smoking on East-West routes (two-day overnights). They are the weakest link. Goodbye.

  • ||

    yeah, airplanes and cars are never recalled for defects. Get real. If you have problems with Amtrak this shouldn't be one of them.

  • ||

    Let's allocate some blame to Bombardier on this one, please. They're the guys who designed the brakes that break.

  • ||

    It's a big deal in the sense that there were other options available, but Amtrak wasted a ton of money to develop these trains from scratch.

  • ||

    Oh, give me a break joe and a. You are cutting Amtrak slack that you would not cut any completely private organization. Doesn't Amtrak have an obligation to ensure the reliability of its product, just like everyone else? I will never understand the emotional attachment to rail. I just don't get it.

  • ||

    Tee hee. I like the quaint little Terri Shiavo reference at the end of Tierney's op-ed.

    Joe sayeth, "I don't know, it's tough to blame this one on Amtrak. It's hardly their fault that their supplier can't deliver spare parts as fast as they'd like, or that the poor conditions of tracks (resulting from chronic underfunding of maintenance) has overstressed the equipment."

    But that is precisely the point, Joe. Only a publicly funded operation would be able to have this big of a fuckup, and not be slammed out of the market by better competitors. You can blame it on poor track conditions and the lack of supplier haste, but...what do you think would happen to a private company that decided to use parts that were specially made and designed for their product alone? What would happen to a private company that allowed its infrastructure to crumble?

    The point, Joey, is that these problems are not endemic of "Amtrak" (IOW, if you introduced another government train tomorrow and called it "CrapTrak", it would still suffer these setbacks). These problems, instead, are endemic to government programs in general. No, you can't "blame" the employees of Amtrak because their brake manufacturer sucks---blame should be placed on the model of "publicly funded operation" in general.

  • ||

    It's a real shame whenever you are about to go on a trip to Europe and you find out that all the airlines with 777's have canceled all flights for a few weeks due to a lack of parts. It makes it so much more difficult to go over there.

    Of course, that's not much of a worry when you can't even drive to the airport because all the auto repair shops ran out of a piece necessary for your car, and now all you have is a heap of junk sitting in the garage.

    Living in this type of world, Amtrak's problems look pretty normal.

  • ||

    Doesn't Amtrak have an obligation to ensure the reliability of its product, just like everyone else?

    No, Jason, because, like any other government-run business, it is artificially shielded from normal market forces by the hand of the beaurocracy. Thus, it's "obligations", as you put it, only come in the form of bosses yelling at their employees because their boss yelled at them----not true market forces of "offer a quality service/product that people want, or go out of business". Since this "business" is funded by stolen taxpayer dollars, profit margin doesn't really play into the equation too heavily.

  • ||

    Although it's a few years old, this is my favorite article about Amtrak's ineptness. Only the government can manage to create an entity with 55 superfluous VP's.

  • ||

    Evan, only family members and women I sleep with are allowed to call me Joey. Which are you?

    Certainly, this is evidence of a fuck-up. My point is only that the reponsibility for this fuck-up lies not so much with Amtrak, as with Congress, which has systematically worked to make sure that Amtrack cannot "ensure the reliability of its product," as Jason Ligon puts it. Congress forces Amtrak to spend large parts of its budget on useless routes. Congress sets the levels of funding that Amtrak has to spend on maintenance.

    A lot of publically funded and operated operations do quite well, but it's generally wise to put operational and budgetary decisions in the hands of those who are resposible for delivering the product. My city creates a Parking Authority and dedicated fund to run the parking garages, and the improvements over the City Council-run operations are striking.

  • ||

    Is Tierney great or what:

    Cutting off Amtrak's lifeline is too painful to imagine for many members of Congress. They still can't accept that the patient's brain has been dead for years.

  • ||

    "Only a publicly funded operation would be able to have this big of a fuckup, and not be slammed out of the market by better competitors."

    Oh, look, US Airways is having a seat-sale...

  • ||

    Amtrack has been in a PVS for more years than Terri Shiavo (sp?). If there was ever a case for pulling the feeding tube (tax subsidies), this is it.

  • drf||

    what about that story (legend? truth?) about sen. kay b. hutchinson of tx battling to keep that sink-hole line in tx open? are stories like that, i.e., where congresstypes bring influence to bear on amtrak to keep lines in their territories open, despite losses?

    at least you could imagine it.

  • ||

    "My point is only that the reponsibility for this fuck-up lies not so much with Amtrak, as with Congress, which has systematically worked to make sure that Amtrack cannot "ensure the reliability of its product," as Jason Ligon puts it. Congress forces Amtrak to spend large parts of its budget on useless routes. Congress sets the levels of funding that Amtrak has to spend on maintenance."

    Egad. This is awfully close to an aknowledgement that regulations designed to serve the people (maintaining useless routes) frequently have the opposite effect, while regulatory funding floors turn into funding ceilings. If we can get even a tinge of 'hmm, there are no consequences to Amtrak for anything it does wrong,' joe'll be a market fundamentalist like me in no time!

  • ||

    Jason:
    "I will never understand the emotional attachment to rail."

    I have no emotional attachment to rail. In fact, I never use trains when I travel. I'm just getting tired of hearing otherwise reasonable people bitch about problems of things run by the government and turn a blind idea when the same problems exist in the private sector.

    Evan Williams:
    "not be slammed out of the market by better competitors."

    Then, tell me why Ford is still in the market after their SUV fiasco acouple of years ago?

  • drf||

    why is ford still in the market?

    besides being a fasle dichotomy, and a statement that's loaded (when did you stop beating your wife), there are plenty of reasons - i don't know how much or if "government bailout" is one of them, but what is the fate of bridgestone/firestone? we could look at the same question.

    but the SUV market is not ford. was there a bailout?

  • ||

    SR makes a great point obliquely: is there _any_ transportation mode that doesn't vitally depend upon govt subsidy? Airlines, aircraft mfgrs, airports, choochoos, highways, auto mfgrs, transportation fuels, bike paths ... could any of these components survive without massive govt "help"?

  • ||

    "If we can get even a tinge of 'hmm, there are no consequences to Amtrak for anything it does wrong,' joe'll be a market fundamentalist like me in no time!"

    Jason, you would do well to work the concept of "sometimes" into your thought.

    drf, a certain absent senator from South Dakota was also well known for using his clout on behalf of a money sink route.

  • ||

    Then, tell me why Ford is still in the market after their SUV fiasco acouple of years ago?

    Because, apparently, people still purchase them. The Explorer problem certainly hurt sales and caused negative publicity for Ford, but they have since rebounded and continue to sell a product that consumers want. Quite different from a government entity that has never even come close to being profitable, and is propped up by our tax dollars. No one is saying that these problems don't happen in the private sector, but when it does happen, private industry does what it must to survive, whether it's discontinuing products, cutting staff, refocusing direction, or just going out of business entirely. Government programs are almost guaranteed to lose money, but they aren't allowed to go under, or even change direction thanks to the efforts of ever-optimistic Congresspersons eager to mismanage the tax dollars you have worked so hard for.

  • ||

    Evan and Joe are twins seperated at birth! I smell a sit-com!

  • Brian||

    It normally takes 4.5 hours to get to Boston from New York on the regular train. But the Acela line is so amazingly fast that it shaves a whopping 30 minutes off of that. Woo hoo.

    My first Acela experience: The train broke down halfway back to New York. They made us get on a regular train which was already full, so my "Acela First Class" ticket had me sitting on a bar stool in the jam-packed cafe car for the extra 4 hours that were tacked on to the trip.

    I pray they go private some day.

  • ||

    Shem: Sayhuh? Lay off the hard stuff this early in the morning.

    Joey says, "Evan, only family members and women I sleep with are allowed to call me Joey. Which are you?"

    Only oddly self-absorbed adults or insecure pre-teens worry whether some quasi-anonymous blog commenter calls you "joe" or "joey". Which are you?

    "A lot of publically funded and operated operations do quite well, but it's generally wise to put operational and budgetary decisions in the hands of those who are resposible for delivering the product."

    "Quite well", compared to what? You mean, "better than private competitors"? Really?

    It doesn't matter whether Congress or Amtrak lackeys make the rules. Without direct exposure to real, unadulterated market forces, a business cannot be successful in any meaningful way. Oh, and, remind me: did congress stipulate which brakes they had to specify on the Acelas? If not, well, then, that's their own fuckup. Usually, when you include a product in your assembly which is difficult to find or custom-made, you can expect problems with future repairs/replacements. When I write a spec for a building I've designed in North Carolina, I don't specify products that have to be shipped from North Dakota, nor too many custom, one-of-a-kind items (especially for heavy-use items that will have to be replaced), unless that's what the client is looking for. The brake issue is an instance of poor planning when specifying products.

  • ||

    The dirty little secret about passenger rail service is that even in the glory days of US railways (1870's - 1950's), passenger lines was generally money-losers. Major railroads used passenger service the way TV networks used their news divisions in the 1950's - as prestigious loss leaders to enhance their image, while making the real money in other areas (for railways, that was freight haulage). Historically, the only really profitable passenger services were short-haul, high-volume commuter runs on the East Coast - exactly the same situation Amtrak now finds itself in.

    Amtrak strikes me as a system maintained more from some perverse sense of nostalgia and governmental inertia than for any practical reason. Selling the East Coast commuter lines to private railroads and eliminating Amtrak altogether is the logical approach, which of course guarantees that it will not be the course followed by Congress.

  • Jeff Smith||

    I actually paid (or, rather, the taxpayers
    of Maryland paid) for the Acela one time.
    The vibration from running too fast on poor
    tracks was so bad that it was impossible to
    get any work done. So, rather than saving
    time, I lost it. I was not impressed.

    Also, this has to be more complicated than
    just "government bad, private good" as many
    European countries have rail systems that
    work really well (though they are, of course
    subsidized). There is some Amtrak-specific
    incompetence at work here as well, I think.

    Jeff

  • ||

    "If we can get even a tinge of 'hmm, there are no consequences to Amtrak for anything it does wrong,' joe'll be a market fundamentalist like me in no time!"

    "Jason, you would do well to work the concept of "sometimes" into your thought."

    It was implied in 'market fundamentalist LIKE ME'. Contrary to popular belief, I don't actually think that the market is perfect all the time, and I do think that government needs to be around to enforce laws that protect the public from harm and fraud. My problems with government programs are practical.

    Broadly, the problem is that all public programs are pretty much identical to extremely inefficient markets. They are monopolies that have no incentive to do anything better or cheaper. Any criticism that can be levelled at a dominant market player applies in spades to any government program. I am generally uncompelled by the sole benefit of government programs over market programs - broad immediate access to an existing good. I'm not even convinced it is a benefit in most cases.

  • ||

    Evan, only family members and women I sleep with are allowed to call me Joey.

    Now there's a sentence that can be read more than one way!

  • ||

    The Interstate Highway System, local surface streets, and airports don't make money, either. Transportations systems aren't supposed to make money. They're an investment, a cost, that brings about benefits to the economy and society as a whole.

    The smart critique of Amtrak is that some of its services don't pass a cost/benefit analysis, and prevent potentially successful ones from achieving their potential. The dumb critique is "Ha ha, your brakes have cracks, we should put all your money into pavement."

    Evan, ""Quite well", compared to what? You mean, "better than private competitors"?" Yes. Private competitors would have never built parking garages in my city's center, and the revitalization to which they contributed would never have happened. See my comments above re: transportation investments and cost/benefit analyses.

  • ||

    A lot of publically funded and operated operations do quite well, but it's generally wise to put operational and budgetary decisions in the hands of those who are resposible for delivering the product.

    Like, say... the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority?

    Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

  • ||

    At the risk of channeling Cathy Young, methinks this is a case where a lot of people are arguing for their side out of spite, even though they probably agree on more than they'll admit.

    So, there's apparently only a handful of profitable rail routes in the US, and that would probably be true in a completely free market as well.

    Amtrak could have some of the best people in the world working for them, for all I know, yet the business model that Congress has forced upon them (serving unprofitable routes) has made it difficult to turn a profit. And maybe the mandated investments under this business model have made it more difficult to invest in infrastructure for the handful of profitable routes. So maybe we can cut Amtrak itself some slack on that one.

    At the same time, being shielded from risk by public guarantees has enabled them to do some incredibly stupid things that a private firm wouldn't do (like put all of their profitable eggs in the basket of a single unreliable supplier).

    I'm all for cutting Amtrak loose. I'm no fan of the current arrangement. I just can't figure out what everybody here is arguing over.

  • ||

    "Transportations systems aren't supposed to make money."

    Um...in a free market they would. Which, of course, is how you know that the particular poject is worth undertaking in the first place.

  • ||

    "Transportations systems aren't supposed to make money. They're an investment, a cost, that brings about benefits to the economy and society as a whole."

    I'm calling this one for what it is: BS. Either enough people are willing to pay for the costs of transportation, or there isn't enough demand for transportation systems. I don't believe the latter, so the only real question is how much transportations are actually worth, how much should we be paying?
    There's no benefit to society to subsidize inefficient and unnecessary services. You're only benefiting particular people (special interests) at the expense of other people.

  • ||

    Brian, I'm with you. The only time the Metroliner or Acela are ever worth it (and perhaps not even then) is if you go the distance, DC to Boston. Believe me, I've taken every form of transportation between NYC and Philly dozens of times, and the fact is that neither of these "high-speed" trains is worth double the cost. Not even close. It simply amazes me how much money was spent on developing a very marginal increase in efficiency.

    Amtrak really does suck.

  • ||

    '"Transportations systems aren't supposed to make money."

    Um...in a free market they would.'

    Yes, they would. They would not do a lot of other things, however.

    "Which, of course, is how you know that the particular project is worth undertaking in the first place." Profitability being the only value that matters, of course.

  • ||

    "Profitability being the only value that matters, of course."

    Ok joe, how would you propose to measure a project's "worth?" By how good it makes us all feel?

  • Johno||

    I see that lots of people would like to privatize rail travel and introduce competition into the mix to ensure quality that Amtrak can't currently offer.

    One question: given that the government siezed the land for rail rights-of-way decades ago when rail was king, and given that no more such seizures are possible (as if we'd want that!), and given that trying to buy a million contiguous bits of land to make your own right of way to lay track on is absurdly beyond possibility, how can Amtrak (or its theoretical private counterpart) ever be anything but either a public or private monopoly? Is a private monopoly any better than a public one? There's only so much rail out there and it's packed into the existing rights-of-way. How could two competing train lines share track without massive scheduling headaches, no to mention the "you fix it!" problem of who picks up the tab for track and ROW maintenence.

  • ||

    Stretch, the Acela would make much better time from Boston to DC if there were some upgrades made to the tracks in Connecticut. There are likely other deferred maintenance and obsolete inftrastructure issues in other locations as well.

    And "worth it," compared to what? Going from South Boston to Logan to fly into JFK and take a cab into mid-town Manhatten? Getting on I-95 just in time to hit New Haven at 5:30 PM, so you can pay for parking when you arrive in downtown?

  • ||

    Let's remove all subsidies from driving and flying and see how much money they make. Probably it will be more than the train -- which has been treated like an ugly stepchild in the US for the last 50 years, no wonder demand is so low -- but let's not pretend that driving and flying are the only orthodox means of travel for libertarians.

  • ||

    matt, by including in the analysis all relevant factors, rather than just costs and cash returns. Pollution, alleviation of congestion (highways, and airports at peak hours), effect on development (and all the variables associated with that)...

    Do you really want to judge the value of your town's street projects by the balance sheet at the DPW?

  • ||

    Let's remove all subsidies from driving and flying and see how much money they make.

    Except for joe, nobody here will find that statement the least bit controversial.

    But even if one accepts the need for subsidies, it's hard not to find a whole lot of misallocation going on.

  • ||

    the Acela would make much better time from Boston to DC if there were some upgrades made to the tracks in Connecticut

    When Germany built its high-speed line from Hannover to W�rzburg, they just built a straight line and tunnelled through any mountains that happened to be in the way. IIRC, the Acela runs on the exact same tracks as every other line, curves and all.

  • ||

    Joe, yes the Acela could make better time if the infrastructure was better, but I don't believe it would make enough of a difference to justify the increased cost. As I said, DC to Boston is the only way you even see a benefit at all. Philly/NYC is a joke.

    Approx 1 way costs (a few years dated) and time of travel.

    NJT/SEPTA: $15, 2.5 hours

    Reg Amtrak: $40 1.5 hours (a significant decrease in time and increase in comfort).

    Acela: $90 1 hour 10 minutes...

  • ||

    joe:

    A private firm would take all those factors into account. Congestion means unhappy customers who might find another, more efficient, way home. If they pollute, their neighbors can take them to court for damages. The point is, the cost would be internalized by the firm (all costs, not just the cost of the actual construction).

  • ||

    >It's a real shame whenever you are about to
    >go on a trip to Europe and you find out
    >that all the airlines with 777's have
    >canceled all flights for a few weeks due to
    >a lack of parts. It makes it so much
    >more difficult to go over there.

    This is a side tangent (with no mocking of anyone's screen name), but aircraft are routinely grounded due to lack of parts. I can however explain why you never see ALL 777's (or any other fleet) grounded at once. It's because the FAA's job is technically to promote the airlines, not to shut them down when a fleet wide problem is found. There are often problems with aircraft that would be worthy of grounding the whole fleet of an aircraft (the "classic" style 737's are an excellent example) but there would be such a spectacular outcry if the FAA grounded them that they won't pull the trigger. Instead the FAA, manufacturer and airlines make a guess about how long they could go before something falls from the sky (literally) and just make sure that they all get checked before that time limit.

    Two years ago the 757 had 50-150 aircraft grounded at any one time in the US (5-15 from each of the major airlines at any one time) due to a lack of parts on PW2000 type engines. The FAA relaxed rules on operating with damaged engines to prevent even more aircraft from being parked. Some of then engines were requiring a multi-hour long inspection after each flight, and the airlines were doing it just to keep the aircraft in the air.

    Also, aircraft routinely fly with numerous cracks longer than a mm, even in structure that can't really have a mm long crack in it and still do it's job properly. These structures have specific inspections that look for that problem, at intervals that insure the crack doesn't reach a critical length. As long as the crack is shorter than that critical length (the length at which it's growth rate would suddenly increase at an unacceptable rate) then the crack is considered fine. The most likely problem with the Amtrak issue is the Amtrak / Bombardier didn't have proper inspection program set up for those parts and/or they haven't figures out what that critical length is.

  • ||

    Evan, only family members and women I sleep with are allowed to call me Joey. Which are you?

    Whoah, someone fed the guy who loves to mangle names raw meat for breakfast this morning...

  • ||

    Doesn't anybody else see the irony in this. I could've sworn that I read a book about a train line with problems like these. Dagny...where you at?

  • ||

    "But even if one accepts the need for subsidies, it's hard not to find a whole lot of misallocation going on."

    I agree, though I doubt we'd find much agreement on the definition of "misallocation."

    Stretch, if the Acela is running from DC to Philly to New York to Boston, should they stop allowing people to get on at NYC and get off in Boston? Also, a few extra bucks to travel on the Acela instead of a New Jersey public transit bus? Hell, the thing could be slower and still worth it!

  • ||

    a few extra bucks to travel on the Acela instead of a New Jersey public transit bus?

    I hope that was a joke... $75 is bit more that "a few extra bucks". And NJT/SEPTA are trains, by the way.

  • ||

    My definition of "misallocation" certainly includes the 20% more than airline workers that Amtrak workers are making, as alluded to in one of the articles. Yet another public sector labor union has held the government hostage, I see.

  • ||

    Joe, they would lose most of their money if they stopped servicing NYC. That's suicide, considering that's why the Acela was created in the first place. I never suggested such. My only point was that the Acela was a very poor use of funds for a company that really needs the money. The service is simply not commensurate with the extra cost. Of course, maybe they make out with charging that much extra, but I doubt it.

    The most cost effective method is the Chinatown bus, which was $12 round trip and took the same amount of time as the local train route (NJT/SEPTA).

    I already said that the extra $25 to take Amtrak was not bad, as the increase in comfort was significant as was the decrease in time of travel compared to the local trains. But more than doubling the cost of a ticket for a 20 minute reduction can hardly be considered worthwhile. Sure, if you have unlimited funds or aren't paying for it yourself, than why not? I mean, I'm sure many politicians are using tax money for Acela tickets.

    Yes, to some a 30 minute reduction between DC and NYC is worth the huge increase in cost, but considering that this is the most travelled route for Amtrak, I simply think they could have really improved service on the existing lines instead of developing a very marginally faster train.

  • ||

    Can't we just copy our responses from previous threads to joe's defense of public transportation as a magical cure that will save us all from environmental disaster, traffic jams and parking problems? (If only the advocates of public transportation can convince law-makers to legislate enough disincentives to other forms of travel and incentives to take the gov't-approved version...)

    The real death-blow to public transportation is that it is a fixed route that just doesn't cover most people's destination requirements. We've already got a flexible system that allows people to go where they want when they want to go there. Even most goods travel by semi-trailer on highways and not by train.

    The "battle" between the rail and the road for personal transportation was won on horse-back before the first rail was laid. The internal combustion engine automobile just put the horses out of a job. Besides, once you get off the rail, unless your destination is in walking distance you're STILL going by automobile.

  • ||

    Cities built without the artifical dispersal of auto-oriented zoning and street layouts put huge numbers of destinations within easy walking distance. If your point is that rail is an ineffective way to get people from half acre houses to office parks, you are correct. But the only reason "most people" don't want to go to destinations that are rail/pedestrian accessible is that "most people" live in work in areas that have been deliberately sprawled out as a matter of government policy.

  • ||

    "But the only reason "most people" don't want to go to destinations that are rail/pedestrian accessible is that "most people" live in work in areas that have been deliberately sprawled out as a matter of government policy."

    joe:

    Unlike rob, I do think that there is truth to this argument. Not that no one would want to live in the suburbs of course, but the government does, to an extent, subsidize suburban residents at the expense of urban ones when constructing roads. And we know what happens when you subsidize something.....

  • ||

    There were *plenty* of government policies that resulted in *more* people moving to the suburbs than would have happened otherwise. Off the top of my head:

    - cheap home mortgages only for new construction
    - "urban renewal" and public housing -> higher crime
    - school bussing -> white flight
    - highways and more highways, easy to get in and out

    Of course people prefer bigger houses. But don't try to argue that the trashing of American cities was simply a result of "market" forces. The government helped it along eagerly.

  • ||

    "But don't try to argue that the trashing of American cities was simply a result of "market" forces. The government helped it along eagerly."

    Agreed.

  • ||

    I'm not arguing that gov't policies don't have influence on the growth of suburbanization. I'm arguing that he's gone off the deep end by proclaiming that gov't policy is the primary reason people live in suburbs.

    I'd agree that gov't policy has helped and maybe even unfairly subsidized it. But I doubt many (if any!) suburban homeowners believe they consciously or unconsciously chose to live in the suburbs because of gov't policy any more than people live in the city because they are "rebelling against gov't policy designed to drive them from the city."

    How are suburbs "artifical dispersal of auto-oriented zoning and street layouts" any more artificial than skyscrapers and dense urbanization? (It's like saying the sprawl of family farms in rural areas was due to artificial dispersal of horse-drawn buggies and rural route lay-outs.)

    It's not like either suburbs OR cities are naturally occuring! It's either ALL artificial or ALL natural. (At least as artificial or as natural as a beaver dam, anyway...)

    Gov't is traditionally bad at using policy to coerce people into doing something they don't want to do. But certainly there is plenty of potential for gov't policies to be influential in aiding and assisting (or abetting) people to do something they want to do anyway.

    Besides, if joe's premise were correct, Park & Ride would be more dominant than driving to work, since everything in the city is so transit & pedestrian friendly that people who live in the burbs would not think it was better to drive in the city than take public transportation.

    Oddly enough, it's the cities with huge yet unprofitable public transportation systems, not the office parks and suburbs outside them, that are over-run with unbearable traffic and parking problems.

  • ||

    blah blah blah, rob, I've read the shallow, oddly selective rejection of the concept of government incentives that underlies your "argument" before, and a hell of a lot more intelligently made to boot. I'll pass, thanks.

    To put the thread back on topic, your thesis is that there are not enough people who would start a trip within walking (or cab) distance of South Station in Boston, or any of the subway, streetcar, and commuter rail lines that connect to it, and travel to a destination within walking (or cab) distance of Penn Station in Manhatten (or any of the subway or commuter rail lines that connect to it) in order to make a rail line between Boston and New York economically feasible. Are you sure you want to stick with that?

  • ||

    Doesn't anybody else see the irony in this. I could've sworn that I read a book about a train line with problems like these. Dagny...where you at?

    I just skimmed this thread and am absolutely aghast at the paucity of Atlas Shrugged references. I'll get it started, then.

    Joe: I don't know, it's tough to blame this one on Amtrak. It's hardly their fault that their supplier can't deliver spare parts as fast as they'd like, or that the poor conditions of tracks (resulting from chronic underfunding of maintenance) has overstressed the equipment.

    Would never have happened if they'd built the rails out of my Rearden Metal!

  • ||

    It wasn't my fault! Honest, Miss Taggart, I looked in the policy book -- nothing in there told me what to do about this! It simply couldn't be helped! It wasn't my fault!

  • ||

    joe - Claiming I'm not smart enough to make an intelligent argument isn't a good excuse for not countering it. That was just a weak attempt at a personal attack and a poor excuse for ducking the argument. ("I've read ... your "argument" before, and a hell of a lot more intelligently made to boot. I'll pass, thanks.)

    And you accuse ME of making a shallow, oddly selective rejection of YOUR argument? Way to mis-represent my argument - you're getting good at that. You're nearly as skilled at it as you are in running to another thread and using the same arguments that got clobbered in the previous thread.

    You've essentially cherry-picked the areas that you think are strongest - which is also, oddly enough, the lines that would likely be profitable even w/o gov't subsidy.

    So actually, you're pretty much arguing my point for me. Privatizate the whole thing and the market will close the lines that aren't profitable. Let the market decide rather than the gov't and take away the subsidization of lines that next to no one uses.

    It's a no-brainer that if I live in walking distance to a line and everything I want to do is in walking distance of the exit of the line even I would take transit. But from the traffic, it's pretty obvious that this is not the case for the majority of people in the very areas you're discussing. Which proves my points that

    1) "The real death-blow to public transportation is that it is a fixed route that just doesn't cover most people's destination requirements." (I'd even go so far as to point out that being stuck to an existing rail system that CANNOT go everywhere economically makes it a less-sensible solution than individual automobile for the majority of travel.)

    AND

    2) "once you get off the rail, unless your destination is in walking distance you're STILL going by automobile."

  • Ron Hardin||

    In the 60s the regular equipment, coaches pulled by a GG1 locomotive, hit 130mph on the DC/NY route, when I timed the milestones a couple of times, I think in MD.

  • ||

    The problem with Amtrak is not simply that it has Federal funds. It's that is has zero accountability as to where those funds go. Bush (a man I don't really like) has proposed that those Federal funds go purely to "important" infrastructure. We can argue all day long about what is actually "important", but the fact is that Amtrak spending money on a trip between Orlando and LA is stupid, especially when you consider that rails and bridges on the most travelled rails are ignored...simply to satisfy lobbies.

  • ||

    if joe's premise were correct, Park & Ride would be more dominant than driving to work, since everything in the city is so transit & pedestrian friendly that people who live in the burbs would not think it was better to drive in the city than take public transportation.

    Except in most cities, people pay little or nothing to park in the generous lots where once stood residences and businesses.

    Oddly enough, it's the cities with huge yet unprofitable public transportation systems, not the office parks and suburbs outside them, that are over-run with unbearable traffic and parking problems.

    Aside from the obvious fact that dense cities were not designed to handle the level of traffic forced on them as a consequence of "free" highways and "free" parking that attacts suburban drivers, imagine how much worse that traffic would be without the public transit.

  • ||

    the fact is that Amtrak spending money on a trip between Orlando and LA is stupid

    I totally agree. Train travel is best for short distances. They should charge much more for those longs trips, and much less for short trips from, say, NYC to Washington. The money would be rolling in.

  • ||

    "Except in most cities, people pay little or nothing to park in the generous lots where once stood residences and businesses." - Rhywun

    What magical cities are these? Having worked in downtown Minneapolis MN, Salt Lake City UT, Norfolk & Newport News VA, I have yet to find a generous lot to park that "cost little or nothing." In fact, I have yet to experience this "free parking" of which you speak of AT ALL, and my downtown experiences are in much smaller cities than those joe is using as his examples of the wonders of transit.

    As to what used to stand in the place of a parking lot/garage, obviously it was determined by its owners to be of more use as a parking lot - not sure what you're getting at here. Nostalgia for something that used to be there probably wasn't paying the bills that turning it into a parking lot does.

    "Aside from the obvious fact that dense cities were not designed to handle the level of traffic forced on them as a consequence of 'free' highways and 'free' parking that attacts suburban drivers, imagine how much worse that traffic would be without the public transit." - Rhywun

    You're right, I doubt there's any way to prove that the traffic would be worse by the use of public transportation - but the traffic problems are hideous even WITH it. It MIGHT be worse without govt-subsidized taxpayer-funded public transit boondoggles, but I have yet to see evidence of a city where installing public transit has noticeably decreased the traffic problems. The burden of proof for public transit would seem to rest with those who assert it would be worse without it. I'm open to ideas about how to evaluate your statement.

    However, if you think that the highways are "free" you haven't taken a gander at the amount of taxes the federal, state, county and city all take out of their residents paychecks. "Free parking" was mentioned there too, but I won't go into re-countering the alien concept (alien to my experience anyway) of your South Park-ish claim of "ample parking day or night!"

  • ||

    I'd also like to know where Rhywun's "most cities" are where "people pay little or nothing to park in the generous lots." They aren't downtown Cleveland, Arlinton, VA, or Washington, DC, I can promise you that. Garage parking in all three of those cities is extremely expensive; I paid $130 for a monthly parking pass on E.12th & St. Clair in Cleveland, I pay $105 for a pass in Arlington, and I know people in DC who pay $200+. And street parking in all three is both costly and difficult to find.

  • ||

    Free parking is common in the sprawling industrial parks of our great nation. There is nothing more beautiful than paving over a family farm and painting parking spaces.

  • ||

    I'd also like to know where Rhywun's "most cities" are where "people pay little or nothing to park in the generous lots."

    In downtown Buffalo, for example, there are parking lots situated ON Main Street, site of the city's light rail line (which was supposed to bring in suburban people without their cars, but instead stops at the city line because they didn't want "city" people in their suburb). These lots charge maybe 10 bucks to park all day. This parking becomes "free" when most employers and stores pay the fee for you.

    I have yet to see evidence of a city where installing public transit has noticeably decreased the traffic problems.

    If you're talking about installing transit in a city that previously had none, well I would not expect any improvements as such cities were invariably built for cars. It's obvious that cars are more attractive to most people, to the extent that they even put up with the unbearable traffic the cars cause in cities that were not designed for them. American cities' attempts at reducing traffic with transit are half-hearted at best. One or two light rail lines is not going to have much of an effect. Yet there is little justification for building more extensive systems because the density isn't there in most cities.

    Nostalgia for something that used to be there probably wasn't paying the bills that turning it into a parking lot does.

    The tragedy of a parking lot being more profitable than buildings being used by actual people says a lot about how we've collectively trashed our cities by turning them into something resembling a strip mall. Think of it as "limiting choice" if that helps. When downtown Buffalo morphed into a suburb by turning half of its buildings into parking lots, how did that increase anyone's options in terms of finding a place they enjoy to live? I know it's "nostalgic" to think that way, but sometimes the newest thing is not the best thing.

  • ||

    Rhywun - Downtown Buffalo has free parking on Main Street? Wow... You can actually work downtown and find a place to park Monday-Friday without having to pay for a parking space like Phil's example? I have to say that if this is the case then Buffalo probably doesn't have enough of a traffic problem to warrant building public transit - if the rationale for building public transit is to ease traffic congestion and parking problems. Oh, wait, they built sufficient parking! What a crazy solution... Identify a solution and go for the simple, market-driven solution instead of trying to get people to change their entire lifestyle!

    I also fail to see how the employer paying a salary to their employee is different from them paying for your parking space. It's coming out of your pay regardless. If you can find a business downtown that will pay for you to park while you shop (validation), then groovy. But you're still paying to park - it's just included in the price of the goods or services you are purchasing.

    "If you're talking about installing transit in a city that previously had none, well I would not expect any improvements as such cities were invariably built for cars."

    Ok, I'll agree with that. But what you describe later (turning buildings into parking lots) sounds like cities changing their structure to accomodate it's population. I think it's weird to think that a city built to suit people when they didn't have cars cars shouldn't be rebuilt to suit people now that they do have cars. (Cities are NOT immutable objects, obviously. People built them, people can REBUILD them to suit themselves.)

    "American cities' attempts at reducing traffic with transit are half-hearted at best. One or two light rail lines is not going to have much of an effect. Yet there is little justification for building more extensive systems because the density isn't there in most cities."

    This is a standard gov't rationale. Our solution hasn't helped? We obviously need more of it then! Pour more money into it!

    Besides, if the rationale for not building more light rail lines is that not enough people would use them ("because the density isn't there in most cities") I think that pretty much says that they shouldn't be built. If a business would lose money on the deal and go belly up it's probably not something enough people want (enough to pay for it) for it to matter.

    "The tragedy of a parking lot being more profitable than buildings being used by actual people says a lot about how we've collectively trashed our cities by turning them into something resembling a strip mall."
    Your definition of tragic and mine are apparently not the same. Tragedy in my world happens to people, not inanimate objects. It sounds to me like downtown Buffalo morphed to suit people who would prefer to drive than take transit. (Go figure...) How this is tragic is beyond me.

    "how did that increase anyone's options in terms of finding a place they enjoy to live?" How did it limit their choices? I'm willing to bet that you can still live in or near downtown Buffalo. But that chunk of real estate was incredibly expensive before the parking lots, so I'm pretty sure there were stringent (financial) limitations on who could live there back it "morphed into a suburb" as you claim.

    I agree that "sometimes the newest thing is not the best thing." But I fail to see how that is an argument for transit, much less a rationale for taking taxpayer's money and using it for something they most likely won't use. I also fail to see why your aesthetic preference (nostalgia?) should keep cities from changing to suit the needs of their populations.

  • ||

    "Free parking is common in the sprawling industrial parks of our great nation. There is nothing more beautiful than paving over a family farm and painting parking spaces." - Twba

    We were actually discussing transit into densely populated areas where transit might have a chance of being a sensible answer. But yes, free parking IS common in industrial parks. (But light rail usually doesn't run to industrial parks, so I'm not sure how this is germaine.)

    Besides, who wants to live on a "family farm" next to an industrial park??? Find me a family farm that used to be where the industrial park's parking lots are that was actually running at a profit without gov't subsidies, please. While you're at it, explain to me where the industrial park SHOULD be located instead of where it IS located. Or perhaps you'd just prefer to close down all industrial sites? (Doing that is going to make it hard for you to buy a new computer when the one you're typing on dies, tho...)

  • ||

    Please don't get your thong in a knot over an Earth Day joke.

  • ||

    (Singing badly) My thong th-thong thong thong?

    You got me... Once again, it's pretty tough to spot humor and sarcasm on a computer screen.

  • ||

    But what you describe later (turning buildings into parking lots) sounds like cities changing their structure to accomodate it's population.

    No, the city changed its structure to accomodate its suburbs' population. There is a big difference.

    I think it's weird to think that a city built to suit people when they didn't have cars shouldn't be rebuilt to suit people now that they do have cars.

    Many people in Buffalo don't have cars. I never had one - I never needed one. But as more and more businesses turn into parking lots, there's less and less one can do without a car.

    It sounds to me like downtown Buffalo morphed to suit people who would prefer to drive than take transit. (Go figure...) How this is tragic is beyond me.

    If you see no tragedy in such things as architectural treasures being torn down for the convenience of suburban drivers to park at their office jobs but who would otherwise not be caught dead in the city, then I can't help you understand.

    I'm willing to bet that you can still live in or near downtown Buffalo.

    Why would I want to? I prefer to live in a dense, urban area without a car. Buffalo does not offer that anymore. That is called less choice.

    Yes, the majority prefer suburbs and cars. That does not mean that almost every American city had to remake itself in that image.

  • ||

    They had a show on Amtrak last night on PBS. It was a hoot listening to an aperently well-to-do older white guy in a suit arguing for his fav welfare program.

  • ||

    " I prefer to live in a dense, urban area without a car. Buffalo does not offer that anymore.'- Rhywyn

    Really? There is no longer any housing within the city limits on Metro Bus lines? Nothing off of Niagara St, Elmwood, Bailey? I realize the Buffalo area has changed since I grew up there but I visit often and it has not changed that much. Fine, there may be fewer choices available that meet your ideal, but that does not mean they are totally unavailable. You may have to accept that you are a niche market for housing, and may not be able to find precisely what you want at the price you want.

    As I recall, many of the changes were made because downtown had nothing going on outside of the workday, weekends and nights were dead. How well the changes have worked in attracting suburbanites downtown is another issue.

  • ||

    Looks like MJ took care of the rebuttal for me. And buildings (architectural treasures or not) never remain anywhere forever. Even Egypt's pyramids and the Roman colisseum aren't as they originally stood. Times change, buildings get torn down and other structures erected. That's called change, which, unlike city-scapes IS an immutable fact of existence. If you don't understand that, even Ozymandias can't explain it to you.

    "No, the city changed its structure to accomodate its suburbs' population. There is a big difference."

    Because the population has moved to the suburbs. Suburbs are sub-urban areas where people often prefer to live although they work in urban areas, quoth Captain Obvious.

    "Yes, the majority prefer suburbs and cars. That does not mean that almost every American city had to remake itself in that image."

    You're right, all American cities don't have to go to that model. But your minority shouldn't expect the majority to subsidize your preferred lifestyle.

    It certainly isn't a good argument for subsidizing public transit through taxation to suit the desires of the minority who prefer, as you do, to live in an urban area and not own their own means of transportation.

    I happen to prefer Apple computers to Microsoft PC's. That doesn't mean that if Apple is about to go out of business, the majority of people who don't purchase or use Apple computers should have to subsidize Apple.

  • ||

    CSX sucks a lot harder.

  • Silly ol' Bear||

    Some people depend on Amtrak, I think the writer sux!

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